Washington Nationals: Should the Nationals Look to Improve Their Rotation?

Sep 6, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel (39) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel (39) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington Nationals can look to veterans such as Jason Hammel, Colby Lewis, or Jered Weaver in free agency to add depth and competition to their rotation.

The Washington Nationals were interested in improving their starting rotation when they pursued Chris Sale earlier this offseason. Eventually their proposed trade package was not picked and the Washington Nationals sent most prospects for their centerfielder. There are holes in the Nationals’ roster, but they still have a chance to improve their rotation if desired.

The free agent class this year is not as strong as years past, hence the high trade cost for Sale. However, there are still diamonds in the rough that can be found. The most obvious pitcher available is Tyson Ross, but it seems that he might sign elsewhere soon. The biggest name besides Ross is Jason Hammel.

Hammel spent over two years of great pitching with the Chicago Cubs before his option was not picked up. For the Cubs, he had almost 450 innings at 3.59 ERA. Despite solid numbers, Hammel would add postseason experience.

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Currently the  Washington Nationals only have one starting pitcher who has pitched after the first round of the playoffs. It might be harder for the Nationals to sign Hammel to a one-year deal because of his age. Further, he might look for more guarantee years before his window closes.

There are two pitchers who could potentially be on the Washington Nationals radar. However, they would be more of a gamble.

The first is Jered Weaver.

He is currently trying to get out of a two-year slump after having six great years prior. Weaver is a three-time All-Star and five of his last seven years he has had an ERA under 3.60. It is important for fourth and fifth starters to eat innings. Even while he struggled last year, he pitched 178 innings.

Another interesting option is Colby Lewis. He could also offer the Washington Nationals one more solid year,  even at the age of 37, improving each of the last two years.

Lewis had a respectable 3.71 ERA last year. The most impressive numbers for Lewis’ age 36 season is he got his WHIP down to 1.126 and averaged over six innings a start. Those are areas that both Joe Ross and Gio Gonzalez struggled in last year. 

There are many reasons why the Washington Nationals may look to add a starter. The most obvious is that they recently traded away their top three pitching prospects. The trades put a lot of pressure on Joe Ross’s health and a bounce back year from Gio Gonzalez.

Further, adding a veteran starter would allow the Washington Nationals to dedicate more time to prospects. The Nationals could develop or give prospects flexibility to trade Gio Gonzalez. Also, if the Nationals front office does not believe that Gonzalez can improve his downward trend or have any doubt in Ross’ health, then they need to improve their rotation in order to take advantage of their closing window to win it all.

 I would be amiss if I did not mention some of the Nationals young talent still in the farm. The Washington Nationals are still high on A.J. Cole, hoping that he can finally find his stride in his age 25 season.

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Another pitcher to keep an eye during the spring is Austin Voth, who was recently added to the 40-man roster and coming off a strong AFL performance. Erick Fedde could be a big-name pitcher for the Nationals but with only a couple starts in Harrisburg, I believe his impact will be seen in a couple years.